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Battles of Emotion: Jaden Mickey struggles through a difficult sophomore campaign for the…

Jaden Mickey’s father tries not to divert him too much with updates from home as he grinds through his second season and waits for his moment at cornerback for Notre Dame football.


But Lamar Mickey made an exception during the most recent bye week.

On a Thursday, he texted his son from Eastvale, California, saying, “Mom’s not feeling well.” Please FaceTime her and give her some encouragement. Kindly give her a call tomorrow.

The response was almost immediate.

“OK, Pops. I got you.



Lamar Mickey heard a disturbance coming from the adjoining room when he was taking a shower the next morning.

After battling colorectal cancer since 2020, his wife, Nilka, entered hospice care this fall. She had been shocked by an unexpected guest.

Her child.

Lamar Mickey stated this week in a phone interview, “I hear this loud scream in our bedroom, and I jump out of the shower thinking something’s wrong. Jaden is giving his mother a hug, and she is overjoyed to see him. I thought, Man, you scared me.

And with that, a much-needed family weekend began.

Feelings ran freely. Laughter also did this.

They just had a good weekend together, Lamar Mickey said. “Hanging out, doing what we do, watching football like we always do on Saturday and Sunday. That was really a blessing, because we had no idea he was coming home.

The visit was quickly arranged after word reached Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman that Nilka Mickey was having a rough week.


Jaden Mickey stepped up when Notre Dame football needed him to.

Hey, man, do you want to go home? asked Freeman. stated Lamar Mickey. Jaden responded, Yeah.

In reply, Freeman said, We got you.

Lamar Mickey texted South Bend once more after things at home had settled down.It was a thank-you note to his son’s coach this time. It was a thank-you note to his son’s coach this time.

It read that Mommy is thrilled, and I really appreciate that.


Cam Hart understands Jaden. Mickey’s provocation

Mickey’s positional mentor and fifth-year senior captain for Notre Dame, Cam Hart, has firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to witness a mother’s suffering.


Growing up in Baltimore, Hart wasn’t quite 10 years old when his watched his mother, January, battle through a neck tumor and three brain aneurysms.

Thankfully, the health issues subsided over time, but the daily dread of what might happen next prepared Hart to help a teammate in Mickey’s situation.


Jaden is really mature, Hart said. It was different for me. I was much younger, but Jaden does a really good job at making sure the main thing is the main thing. Off the field, yeah, those conversations are had to make sure he’s all good in terms of his emotions and mentally.


At 19 and considering a change of major to either political science or psychology, Mickey inspires his teammates and coaches with his boisterous personality.


When he steps on the field, Jaden is the same person every day, Hart said. He’s going to talk trash. He’s going to bring great energy: happy, screaming.

That’s what I appreciate the most, and I don’t really have to change that in Mickey. He loves football. He’s a great football player. That’s something that’s instilled in him.


When injuries to Benjamin Morrison (quadriceps) and Hart (lower arm) left the Irish secondary scrambling on Oct. 28 against Pittsburgh, Mickey stepped up. Playing a season-high 34 snaps on defense, Mickey sent the 58-7 win into overtime with a 43-yard interception return for a third-quarter touchdown.


Watching from the sidelines, Hart remembered any pain disappearing amid the celebration. Everyone around Notre Dame knew immediately what that pick-six meant to the Mickey family.


18th-ranked Notre Dame is getting ready to play Stanford to close out the regular season on Saturday, and Hart said it was one of the best moments of the year.

Marty Biagi, Notre Dame’s special teams coordinator, has come to depend on Mickey as one of his most versatile and reliable contributors.


I just really value him because I feel like he’s a competitor, Biagi said. And you see it. There’s so much fight in him that he knows how to compartmentalize, but he does such a great job.

Mickey will stop by the football building and visit with the coaching staff here and there. Biagi smiled as he recounted a little stopwatch baseball game he and Mickey played for five minutes of rare downtime.


Then you go on the practice field, and he’s the one that’s always going to bring the energy for the whole unit, Biagi said, snapping his fingers for emphasis. You’re in the meeting. Let him know that you need to make sure that this is fixed by gently calling him out. And it’s, ‘Yes, sir. Coach, I’m on it.


That would be impressive for any young player stuck behind a senior starter. When you consider his mother’s struggle with cancer, you can see why Mickey is so well-liked.


To see that and know what he’s going through off the field with his family situation, Biagi said, but then know, OK, it’s football time. He’s locked in.

It’s school time. Great. It’s meeting time; he’s locked in. I think it just speaks to the character of how he’s growing up.


Waiting for his opportunity

The Ohio State game on Sept. 23 was the only one for Notre Dame this season, with both of Mickey’s parents in attendance.

“It was a tough trip for Nilka,” her husband said. “She got sick a couple times during that weekend, vomiting in the hotel and stuff like that.”

Despite the nausea and the 17–14 last-second loss, lasting memories were made.



Shannon Vinson, mother of Notre Dame long snapper Michael Vinson, put the word out among the Irish parents’ group, and another player’s parents offered the use of their golf cart for the day.

We got there a couple hours early because Nilka likes to see them walk in,” Lamar Mickey said of the Victory Walk through campus.

They picked us up from the parking lot and drove Nilka to a nice area where I could sit her down and she could watch the players. She was able to see Jaden and cheer for all her favorites.


Morrison and Audric Estime, most notably.

Friday night at the team hotel, Jaden Mickey made a promise to his parents.

He was like, ‘Dad, I’m telling you, I feel good this week,  Lamar Mickey recalled. I’m going to do my best.

Their son ran down on kickoff coverage three times against the powerful Buckeyes, but that was it; the starters went the distance.

Of course, Mom was disappointed,” Lamar Mickey said. “But we’re always happy to spend time with ‘J’ when we can.

The family went to IHOP and talked things through over late-night breakfast at 1 a.m.

It took five weeks for Jaden Mickey’s moment to finally come against Pittsburgh.


‘We don’t run from things,’ Jaden Mickey’s father says

Back in Eastvale, the Mickey family was sitting on the couch, watching and hoping.

According to Lamar Mickey, efforts have been made for the past two years to ensure Jaden’s mental well-being and positivity. I know his faith is strong. I know what he believes, so I never questioned that. Simply confirming his well-being on a weekly basis. It is waiting your turn and exercising patience.


A former Weber State and El Camino College defensive back, Lamar Mickey coached his son from an early age. A social worker and youth mentor in Riverside County, he’s savvy enough about the modern workings of college football to ignore the frustrations of extended family and friends.


I get people calling me all the time: ‘Why is ‘J’ not playing more?

Dad said, He has to go to the transfer portal and log in. Everybody wants to throw their thoughts in, but it’s not your career or your education. My son is a competitor. He never even thought about that. When we make a commitment, we do not back down.


Nilka Mickey reiterated that message to her family each time she visited the UC San Diego Health complex for a chemotherapy treatment. There would be a dozen sessions in all, not including an $80,000 alternative treatment program in Arizona or the three surgeries or four clinical trials along the way.


This fall, Nilka Mickey finally said enough. She just wanted to live the rest of her life and enjoy her family in peace.


Her son grew even more determined to make something happen.

That’s one of the things that I was in prayer for that he’s always telling people and me, Lamar Mickey said. He says, ‘I just want Mom to see me ball.


Then came the pick-six against Pitt. As Nilka Mickey’s son raced toward the end zone, the living room back in Eastvale erupted with shrieks of joy.

Jaden’s sister was there, along with a family friend who had come to visit.


It was just loud, Lamar Mickey said. “Everybody just started screaming, and everybody started texting Nilka and myself. Everybody was screenshotting it and recording it on the TV in their homes. It was a big deal for our friends and our family.


It was so big that it almost didn’t seem real.

“It was just a blessing,” Lamar Mickey said. “I’m just happy that my wife got to see that. She knows the lifetime of work that he put into it. That was one of his goals—to let his mom see that he made a good play for the team. It was awesome.”

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